How to select 1st Kayak for Beginner??

-- Last Updated: Jun-21-13 3:42 PM EST --

UPDATED Summary: based on the initial replies (THANK YOU!!) I am looking for a recommendation for a SINGLE (not tandem) kayak for beginners for use on lakes.
Details: will definitely look into classes and demo days. Beyond that, I am buying a kayak as a present for my husband who is a big outdoor sports fan, but has kayaked only a handful of times, on the ocean and lakes.
The kayak will be used mostly on Lake Tahoe and surrounding lakes (will leave rivers for later - per advice below ).

Have seen lots of discussion about fit - He's 6 foot, 170 lb, so not a super big guy.
I've tried reading the reviews, but there are SO MANY kayaks, I'm not sure where to even start.
Please suggest some brands and/or models, sizes, weights, anything that would help. Also please recommend good sources in the SF Bay Area or better yet online.
Thank you!!!

As no one else has replied yet, I will try to do my best with suggestions before the actually experienced paddlers come on.

I assume that, since Lake Tahoe is very big, that you need to look for an ocean kayak, not a recreational one. With that said, a tandem touring kayak can be very expensive, so you may want to consider purchasing two singles, one very nice one for him and one a little cheaper one for you, if you plan to use it less.

Most boats are rated for up to Class II river rapids, but in general a boat suited for open water (i.e. ocean/large lake) will not be very good for whitewater. You would need a whitewater - style kayak for rapids over Class II.

Hopefully others can correct this, and suggest specific boat brands. Good luck!

A better gift idea
is a kayaking class - SF has good outfitters.

It really is a gift that keeps on giving - he will be able to try some sea kayaks, be advised on fit, gain essential skills.

Also, before gifting your husband with a tandem, you should try paddling one together - some folks jokingly call them divorce boats. Most tandem kayaks worth recommending are not suitable for solo paddling.

You are very lucky - SF area has excellent sea kayaking clubs and outfitters.

Are you 100% sure you want a divorce boat, aka tandem?

Why not 2 boats.

That is how I got my wife involved
We used a tandem for 5 months for her to get a good start on her paddling form and core to get in shape, then sold the tandem at a huge loss to get a boat she was comfortable in.

From a pure cost effective point of view getting 2 entry level kayaks will cost about the same as a decent tandem, and you can get boats that fit you much better.

For a decent general use kayak for lakes and lower class white water, Dagger Alchemy (S or L) may be a good place to start looking. Your best bet is to go to a shop that specializes in kayaks and just try some on. Just like shoes or clothes, everybody has distinct likes and dislikes. There is no substitute for human contact and direct advice.

This forum is a great place to get advise and knowledge from a vast experience pool.

There is a lot of water out there, and lots of different ways to play in it.

For one, or two
Considering the criteria you noted, maybe a canoe would be more suitable. However, I would strongly recommend doing a lot of looking at and paddling before making such a critical choice. I think it would be a huge mistake to buy something to surprise your husband with.

You didn’t mention how much wampum you are prepared to spend on this enterprise. Beside the boat/boats there is a never ending list of kind of spendy things you will need. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can cheap out on pfd’s (life jackets) and paddles.

On the other hand, this is likely to be the best investment you will ever make if you make the right choices. For my personal recommendation, I would have to go with two solo sea kayaks. Here’s a place to get started


– Last Updated: Jun-21-13 10:53 AM EST –

I have to agree with several of the points already made. This is too large an investment with too many complexities to purchase as a "surprise" for your husband. I know it's tempting to want the big "surprise" moment of revealing such a large gift, but I would suggest a clever stand-in, like a gift certificate tucked inside a small kayak toy. Perhaps joint lessons in kayaking or a guided outing in a good tandem and/or solo kayaks would be the best intro. You should have some knowledge and feel for what you really need and want before spending what will be at least $2,000 to $3,000 on boats and gear.

My sweetie and I (both active outdoor folk in our early 60's) paddle frequently, from large lake and coastal touring to small whitewater creeks. For most trips we use 2 solo kayaks. There are both functional and safety reasons for this. Tandems are heavy, and despite what many beginners think, it is not easier for two people (especially beginners) to propel a tandem than solo boats. Also, if you capsize a tandem there is not a second boat to help with recovery and re-entry. This can be a serious safety issue. Due to their volume, pumping out a swamped tandem is a real chore.

A tandem is also quite a barge for a solo paddler, unless it is a folding kayak (like a Feathercraft Klondike or a Pakboat XT-16) that can be rigged so the seat is in the center and that is much lighter weight than a plastic or composite boat.

When we tandem paddle, we use a canoe instead of a kayak. We have one that we are able to use in class I and II rivers. As others have said, a tandem kayak is quite unsuitable for fast rough water -- they are just not maneuverable enough. The canoe we use most is not costly or high-tech. It's a Mad River Adventure 16, rotomolded plastic and available just about everywhere for under $700. It tracks well in open water and handles decently for negotiating moderate rapids. And we don't mind beating it up on rocks and gravel bars. For kayaking we have several boats each but the ones we use most often are Venture Easky 15's (a standard one for him and a smaller LV model for me) which are mid-sized touring/sea kayaks. These are also moderately priced boats, around $1300 each new. They are good for conditions like Lake Tahoe due to the low profile and great handling in winds and waves. They track straight and are easy to paddle at reasonable speed. They are also 10 to 15 lbs lighter than most similar models by other makers, at around 46 lbs. A tandem kayak can weigh close to 100 lbs -- you need to factor in dry land wrangling when you choose a boat, too.

Anyway, I'm sure you will have other feedback to consider, but I thought hearing what another couple has settled on for our optimum paddling routines would be instructive. I know there are others who like tandem kayaks, but personally I have never enjoyed them. One of the great pleasures I get from kayaking is the freedom of controlling my own boat. It's also easier to talk with your companion (and photograph them) when they are in a separate boat. I am always hoarse after our tandem canoe trips from shouting over my shoulder.

demo day this weekend

– Last Updated: Jun-21-13 12:17 PM EST –

Aquan Sports, a shop in San Carlos (SF Peninsula) has a demo day this weekend at their San Mateo location. $10 per person to try all the boats you want. They will have likely over a 100 boats of all types laid out on the beach to try, so lots of choices.

You may want to read an article in a recent issue of California Kayaker Magazine on different boat types. Issue 10, starting on p[age 6. Read online for free at

On that, looking for a boat that you can use on Lake Tahoe and also use on Class 2 (and even 3)doesn't work out. The two basic breaks are flat water and white water. Tahoe is flat water. One you talk class 2, your are in white water. Very different boats. That article tries to talk about the differences.

Something to keep in mind is water temps, and clothing. You rarely ever see anyone wearing wet suits or similar in Tahoe, and this is unfortunate as the water is COLD and people do die of the cold there every year. The saying is dress for the water temps. At a simple level, rash guards provide a little warmth, wet suits even more, dry suits the most.

Also, while you are reading articles, you may want to check out issue #8 on getting butt time and #7's article on taking classes.

Pay for, don’t choose his boat
It’ll still be a present. But hold off until he’s had a little demo/class time to get a basic sense of what he wants, then pull out a checkbook. It is quite likely that you will find a good match in this process, and used is great because no one has to worry about who got the first scratch in the boat. You can help carry it without worrying about repercussions the first time you go thru a tight space.

You are talking full out sea kayaks for that area, so a bad choice is likely to be a pretty expensive one.